The Eagle Enigma (2/5/2021)

Is the eagle part of the FFA emblem or not?

Parkinson’s Law states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” I have formulated a similar law – “A simple historical question may lead down many rabbit holes.” This Friday Footnote started with a simple question a couple of months ago about the FFA emblem posed by Brandon Davis from Kentucky. Here is the question – “We had a teacher in KY ask a question about the emblem I had not heard before. Why does the eagle not grasp 13 arrows like the Great Seal of the US?”

I was 95% certain that I knew the correct answer but thought I would ask a few of my colleagues to verify that I was correct. Their replies confirmed my response but led me down a bunch of other rabbit holes.

The Eagle on the FFA Emblem

The current FFA manual describes the FFA emblem (FFA manual, 2021, p. 26) as “The national FFA emblem, consisting of five symbols, is representative of the history, goals and future of the organization.” The five symbols are identified as the cross-section of the ear of corn, the rising sun, the plow, the eagle, and the owl. Has the FFA emblem always been comprised of five symbols?

Figure 1. Image of the FFA Emblem Eagle from the 2021 FFA Manual

If we look at the first FFA Manual (1929-30, p. 3) the description and depiction of the emblem and the eagle are interesting. First, it is stated that the FFA emblem is comprised of FOUR symbols – the owl, the plow, the rising sun, and the cross-section of the ear of corn. But in describing the emblem, it is stated that the emblem is surmounted by the eagle and the image of the emblem shows the eagle. See Figure 2.

​Figure 2. Description and depiction of the FFA Emblem in the 1929-30 FFA Manual.
This manual was mimeographed. If you have ever worked with a mimeograph stencil
(I have) you will realize how difficult it would be to draw an FFA emblem on the stencil.

The minutes of the inaugural meeting of the FFA in 1928 state that the proposed constitution be amended to read (p. 19) “that the insignia of the organization be the owl, the plow, and rising sun, surmounted by the eagle grasping the coat of arms of the United States and a bundle of arrows, with the letters F. F. A. across the central part of the emblem and the words Vocational Agriculture in small letters inserted at the base o£ the kernels of corn.” Is it possible to determine from these minutes how many parts there are to the FFA emblem?

Later in the 1929-30 FFA manual (p. 46) Article IX of the FFA constitution describes the insignia. Section A of Article IX identifies the four components of the emblem and mentions the eagle as being on the “national key.” Section B describes who can wear the insignia. In describing the American Farmer insignia, it is stated that “the gold insignia [is] directly mounted on a key, and surmounted by the American Eagle.” There is no mention of the eagle in relation to the three lower degrees. See Figure 3.

Figure 3. Description of the Insignia from the 1929-30 FFA Manual.

In the early days of the FFA, the three lower FFA degree pins did not have the eagle as part of the emblem. In Figure 4 the leftmost pin in the Greenhand. Next is the “Future Farmer” degree pin (now known as the Chapter Degree) The third pin is the State Farmer degree pin. The pin on the right is the American Farmer Degree. Since the American Farmer degree is a national degree, it had the eagle; the others did not.

Figure 4. Early FFA degree pins from the 1930s. Image courtesy of Jim Connors.

One can find numerous images of the FFA emblem minus the eagle. In Volume 1, Issue 9 of The Agricultural Education Magazine there is a feature about FFA news. Figure 5 shows the header on the FFA News page. There is no eagle.

Figure 5. FFA News page from Volume 1, Issue 9 (1929) of The Agricultural Education Magazine.

In the early days of the FFA, various manufacturers produced FFA merchandise. Typically, the vendors were approved by the FFA. Figure 6 shows an early FFA medal produced by Jostens. There is no eagle on the FFA emblem. Figure 7 shows an FFA patch with no eagle.

Figure 6. An early FFA medal produced by Jostens. Photo courtesy of David Laatsch.

Figure 7. An early FFA patch with no eagle. Photo courtesy of David Laatsch.

There appears to have been some confusion in the early days of the FFA about the emblem. Did the eagle belong on the emblem or not? The minutes of the 2nd FFA convention in 1929 (p. 42) contains a report that was probably given by Henry Groseclose even though the author of the report is not identified. The report states:

Second, the insignia of the organization is composed of an owl, a plow, and a rising sun within a cross section of an ear of corn. This cross section of an ear of corn is surmounted by the American eagle. This emblem has been copyrighted, but may be used by any state or local organization that has been duly chartered. I note that a number of state organizations are not using an emblem surmounted by the eagle. Although this appears to be a small matter may I, at the risk of being accused of quibbling, ask that all of you obtain cuts of the proper emblem and use it to the exclusion of all other emblems. These cuts may be obtained from national headquarters and without charge.

The gist of the report was that some states are using the emblem minus the eagle and other states are using the emblem with the eagle. The “proper emblem” appears to be the one with the eagle. However, this did not resolve the confusion.

At the 6th annual national convention (1933) the constitution is revised but Article IX concerning the insignia is essentially the same as printed in the 1929-30 FFA manual.

At the seventh national convention in 1934, there is still confusion about the emblem. The convention proceedings indicate that (p. 16):

At this point the President called upon the Executive Secretary to explain the situation with regard to the conception of the emblem of the Future Farmers of America. It was pointed out that there was confusion regarding just what the F. F. A. emblem really was. This … was due in part to the fact that the degree pins and State Farmer Key were designed without being surmounted by the American eagle. Naturally this raised a question in the minds of some whether the Green Hand and the Future Farmer member should be allowed to wear paraphernalia with the complete emblem thereon. However, it was further pointed out that according to the minutes of the first convention it was evident that the official emblem of the F.F.A. was supposed to include the eagle; that this emblem was proper wherever the complete emblem of the organization was appropriate and that the only distinction where the emblem was not used in complete form was in connection with the degree pins for Green Hands and Future Farmer, and on the State Farmer Keys.

It was moved by Hedrick of Washington, duly seconded and carried, that the organization go on record at this time to the effect that the official emblem of the F. F. A. organization was the complete national emblem including the American eagle surmounting the cross section of the ear of corn.

There was additional discussion that perhaps the degree pins should be differentiated by color instead of the absence or inclusion of the eagle. It was suggested the Green Hand pin be bronze, Future Farmer (later to be known as Chapter Farmer) be silver, and the State Farmer be white gold. This was referred to the Board of Trustees for their recommendations.

At the 1936 FFA convention, the delegates approved a recommendation from the Board of Trustees that all FFA degree pins have the eagle on them and they be differentiated by color (Greenhand – bronze pin, Future Farmer – silver pin, State Farmer – gold charm). However, this plan would be implemented only after changes were made in the constitution.

The National Constitution of the FFA was revised in 1937. Article IV Emblem finally states the emblem is comprised of five symbols (1937 FFA Convention Proceedings, p. 25), one of which is “an American eagle surmounting the cross-section of the ear of corn indicating the national scope of the organization.”

So, it appears the issue of whether or not the eagle is officially part of the FFA emblem had been settled.

But not so fast!! Two years later a legal issue emerged about having the American eagle on the FFA emblem. Next week we will explore this legal issue, see how it was resolved, and answer Brandon’s question about why the FFA eagle doesn’t have 13 arrows that initiated this Footnote. So, stay tuned for Part II.

Jim Connors, David Laatsch, Andrew Smith, and Troy White all contributed to this Footnote and the one that follows.